Omega 3 is one of two essential fatty acids necessary to the human body. Called essential because it cannot be produced by the body, omega 3 must be obtained from the diet. Fish typically contain high levels of omega 3m but not all fish are created equal. Herring and salmon are two popular fish choices that provide good amounts of omega 3.
The Importance of Omega 3
The essential fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6, are very important to the human body. They provide the raw materials for the production of hormone-like substances that are involved in the regulation of many processes in the body, including blood pressure, blood lipids, the immune response, and the inflammation response to injury, infection, and stress. Although severe deficiencies are rare, the typical American diet is low in omega 3 and high in omega 6.
The omega 3 fatty acid family can further be divided into three types. The primary form is linolenic acid, which is found in canola oil, soybeans, flaxseed, and walnuts. The other two omega 3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Found primarily in fish and shellfish, EPA and DHA can also be made in small amounts by the human body from linolenic acid. Since this is an inefficient conversion, it is recommended to consume EPA and DHA directly.
No official intake recommendations exist for the omega 3 fats, but adequate intake levels have been established. Males should consume 1.6 grams per day, and females should consume 1.1 grams per day. Even one fish meal per week has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, but experts recommend consuming fish two to three times per week, totaling at least 10 ounces of fish, as well as small amounts of vegetable oils, for optimal health benefits.
Coldwater fish provide the highest amounts of the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. The amount and type of omega 3 fat varies from fish to fish, so it is recommended to consume a variety of fishes. Salmon and herring contain some of the highest levels of omega 3. A four-ounce serving of Atlantic salmon contains 2.1 grams of omega 3, whereas a same-size serving of Pacific herring contains 2.4 grams of omega 3.
When shopping for fish, choose wild over farm raised whenever possible, especially when purchasing salmon. Studies have shown that wild fish have higher levels of omega 3 and are generally more environmentally friendly. To choose the freshest fish possible, look for rich red gills, shiny even-colored skin, and bright, clear eyes. Plan on cooking the fish the day of purchase if possible. If not, fish will stay fresh in the refrigerator, on ice, for a few days.
- "Nutrition Concepts and Controversies"; Frances Sizer and Eleanor Whitney; 2000
- American Dietetic Association website